Review: Groan Ups. Nottingham Theatre Royal

From Mischief Theatre Company Groan Ups comes mischievously onto the Nottingham Theatre Royal stage this week. Monday 29th Nov – Sat 4th December. Whilst not quite as madcap as the likes of The Play That Goes Wrong this comedy drama is still a dramatic comedy winner in many ways. Thematically, the play broadly asks  “Do we choose who we become? Is the story of our lives already written? Do we ever really grow up?” The answers to this are as individual as the questions themselves I guess. It’s not a school test with right or wrong answers so don’t cheat as you consider whether you feel this way. I think we do retain some of the ways we were educated from being six years old upwards and confidently making school friends or perhaps were a shy and bullied outsider. Education and relationship bonds do affect our way of looking at the world. Hiding in the dark being a theatre reviewer has nothing at all to do with being locked in the junior school stationery cupboard and left there, quite alone and stationary, with wet pants after the school closed. Locked in with no external noises except the distant groaning of Old Joe, the school ghost and the hamster wheel going round and round despite there being no hamster. Nothing at all. Nothing.

The work of understudies is always a reason to celebrate and this evening’s Groan Ups understudies are Paul Brown as Spencer and Holly Sumpton as Katie. Considering that these understudies also cover other roles (if needed) they, and their like are the saviours of the theatre industry. And it must be fun potentially being called upon to play one of five characters in a play! Both Brown and Sumpton excel and bring plenty of wit and physical comedy to this production. Brown’s scenes with the various hamsters are hilarious as are his body and facial expressions as the lovable six year-old Spencer which has tears of laughter rolling down this reviewer’s cheeks. Holly Sumpton is just perfect as the swottish Katie whether she is six, fourteen or a newly married thirty year-old attending a school reunion and learning more things about her old school chums and husband than she could ever have imagined.

Playing the teachers and other characters are Killian Macardle as Mr White and Paul and Jamie Birkett as Miss Murray and Chemise. Both come into their own comedy genius in the second act as we expereince Macardle’s ‘never stopped being the school clown’ Paul and, (no plot spoilers here) Birkitt’s playing of Chemise, an unexpected guest to the school reunion party. The character of Chemise is a big favourite with tonight’s audience.

It’s a small cast that we see growing up and forming relationships with each other initially as six year-olds surrounded by giant-sized classroom furniture, then as fourteen year-olds all curious about sex and anxious about their school test results and finally as adults returning to their old school for a school reunion yet still harbouring their good and bad traits of their younger selves. Watching their journey and laughing at their antics and opinions and sexual awkwardness is remarkably like being back at school yourself. The over-confident and over-compensating, rather spoilt girl, Moon is played with great comic energy by Yolanda Ovide. Daniel Abbott makes a terrific apprehensive Archie who is always out to try to be friends with the other class mates but who proves a dark horse in many ways and alters the course of two of the children’s lives by his secretive nature and actions. Then there is Simon (Matt Cavendish), poor bullied Simon, who buzzes about trying to impress the other kids even when he is a business owning adult with a needy urge to show off.

The play is written by Mischief’s team of creative writers Henry Lewis, Johnathan Sayer, Henry Shields and directed by Kirsty Patrick Ward. The impressively ever changing school room sets are designed by Fly Davis with costume design by Roberto Surace.

We recommend you pop over to Nottingham Theatre Royal to see Groan Ups this week but don’t eat too many Opal Fruits or Smarties before you go. Nobody likes an over-active audience member.

Groan Ups lasts approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes including a 15 minute interval.

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